The Importance of Being David

Davids galore in the Piazza della Signoria

When I first moved to Jones Street in 1976 David lived in the apartment behind us. He knew my roommate. We had some of the same friends, saw each other occasionally in the hallway and socially, but never really got along. The first two years we knew each other we rarely spoke.

I’m not sure what he thought of me then but I considered him shallow, materialistic, superficial, overly-dramatic and arrogant. I’ve never been one to judge. I might have been right about some of that but I learned none of it really mattered. David needs a unique set of criteria to be understood.

When the thaw came it was rapid and complete. We were constant companions for the next two decades.

A flair for accessories

David once owned Matinee on Polk Street, a vintage clothing store. He has a knack for fashion trends and always gives me things saying simply “you should wear this.” I do and they work.

David’s intelligence is filtered through dyslexia or maybe ADD. The mind always goes in the right direction although the mouth does not always follow. One of the entertaining by-products of this are his malapropisms and miscommunications.

Once on the phone he was describing this great shirt he’d found. It was graphic, radiating spokes of red white and blue. He said, “it’s kind of like the British Flag. You know, the Lumber Jack.”

Another conversation was about someone he insisted I knew. He told me parties where I met him, his physical description, but I maintained I didn’t know him. He knew if he could describe his slight speech impediment I’d know but he wasn’t sure how to put it. So he just said, “he does that ba-ba-ba Ba-Babara Ann thing.”

With Jim Jordan and an unknown substance

David is a California native and taught me it’s cool to tailgate at 80 mph on the freeway. I did not adopt his use of turn signals, however. Once while heading downtown on Bush Street to somewhere south of Market, he turned on his signal near Van Ness. It was the way we usually went except this time he did not turn.

We went a few more blocks with the signal blinking. Finally I reasoned with him. “David, when you put the turn signal on the other drivers are expecting you to do something. When you don’t do it they’re confused and get angry.”

He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes and laughed. “Oh that. That’s just a reminder to myself that eventually I need to turn right

Butching it up for the River Crowd

David loves to organize. He had a Russian River house we would go to some weekends. We’d always get provisions at a little Monte Rio grocery store that used old registers to key prices in, no barcode scanners. The short conveyor belt could only accommodate a customer at a time.

One time the clerk started ringing things up while David frantically organized items on the belt. Whether by size, alphabetically, or maybe flavor, it wasn’t clear. Motion was fast and furious and it appeared things that had been rung up were pulled back so they’d be in the proper order.

I stood and watched as the clerk stopped the tally in exasperation. He put his hand on his hip and glared at David who took a few seconds before he realized the process had paused. When he looked up the guy hissed, “Are you finished?”

David was not about to let that bit of queenie cheekiness get the last word. He quietly put his head back down, moved the toilet paper behind the Clorox then the ice cream in front of the paper towels. He looked back up and said caustically, “Yes. I’m finished.” Checkmate.

On the Tower Bridge with the Queen Mum and Princess Alice

When we went to Paris, David expected me to be his interpreter. I speak French very poorly but have enough understanding to get by. David doesn’t speak it at all. On one trip I put my foot down and said he had to fend for himself.

We were in Au Printemps’ perfume department on a mission for some obscure scent. I gave him a little pep talk then kept my distance and watched. The sales lady approached him and he started in rapidly. “I’m looking for a perfume from the 20’s, Dianna Vreeland wears it, might be Guerlain but Coco Chanel wore it too. It’s in a blue bottle that might be green. From the Jazz Age, unisex, you know the Ritz Bar, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, they all wore it…” The blistering speed didn’t give the woman a chance. She turned away..

We browsed afterwards and I did a postmortem. “These people speak much better English than we do French. Go slowly, use a few key words, they’re bound to pick up on something.” David agreed as we made our way back to the perfume.

An effervescent vendeuse offered her assistance and he reloaded the M60: “Josephine Baker, The Moulin Rouge, NIjinksi, Diaghilev, looks like Chanel bottle but it isn’t, ambergis, musk…..” We went home empty handed.

This teaching thing of mine, it’s a gift.

Playing with the party decorations

In the first episode of Schitt’s Creek federal agents arrive to confiscate everything. The four main characters are introduced in brief vignettes as they interact with the chaos. The last one is the son, David Rose.

With dramatic arm gestures in his black Neil Barrett sweater, haughtiness in his voice and a bit of imprecise logic laden with hyperbole he demands, “What kind of person does this? Who destroys other people’s lives like this? DESTROYS LIVES!” It only took a second to realize who this character was.

David and I were two independent spirits who did not back down. We had small spheres of influence in a vast wasteland. I flatter myself to think my 70’s performances helped make the world safe for RuPaul a few years later. (As if anyone is safe from that bitch.)

But I do know that my friend David was the sine qua non for the Schitter’s David.

People on the river are happy to give

A Schitty Intermission

As we await tonight’s Emmys let’s take a moment to reflect on the rarified air Tina Turner was breathing in the 1980’s and 90’s. When she made her startling comeback she went from R&B has-been to a rock star whose net worth rapidly approached Mick and Keith’s. Her international success brought her major corporate backing.

Because she was not a songwriter most of her new material was selected by her label and management group. Apparently when you’re that big of a star songs are constantly pitched to you. Although she had a say in what she would do and definitely put her stamp on everything she did, some of the material did come across as corporately safe and overly focus grouped.

One song that was pitched directly to her and that she fell in love with was Simply the Best. When she took it to the suits they wanted nothing to do with it. A long fight ensued until Tina finally won it. It became her signature song from the latter part of her career.

I love the Bolero build to it but the real hook is that little fatalistic riff in the chorus they keep hammering home. Dah-na, na-na. It still gives me goose bumps. It’s reminiscent of the one from Santa Claus is Coming to Town on the Phil Spector Christmas album.

When Tina performs The Best at Wembley it becomes a bombastic anthem. She’s definitely feeling it but does most of the song with her eyes closed. Probably because to entertain 60,000 people you need about 100 billion watts of strobe going off in your face. It’s a wonder she didn’t go over the lip of the stage. Or have an epileptic fit.

The highlight comes towards the end of the song after she lines up with her girls to do their high-heeled shuffle. As they finish she takes one step out of it then does this joyous half kick. It’s so Tina. Such a proud pony.

The butter voiced beau

In Schitt’s Creek David and his new boyfriend and partner Patrick are lamenting the fact they have no business. After their big opening they are not getting any foot traffic. They brainstorm ways to bring in customers.

Patrick thinks they need to get the community involved and suggests an open mike party. My reaction was the same as David in the show: please don’t. Nothing good ever comes out of sitcom characters trying to do poignant songs. They’re always unwatchable.

Patrick wins out and does the opening number. Things get even worse when he dedicates the song to his new love. I sat clutching the club chair, pulling the mohair off the arm rests, wondering if I could bear to look.

His song began simply enough with this atonal Segovia filigree around lyrics he was racing through. I knew the song but couldn’t figure it out. Then he got to the chorus and the riff. It was Simply the Best, completely stripped down.

Noah Reid who played Patrick did the arrangement himself. There was a little Nutbush in it but it had a heavier Ramblin’ Jack Elliot/Bleecker Street overlay. Babe. Reid took a potentially cringeworthy moment and turned it into one of lighthearted magic. Just watch Catherine O’Hara’s uncontrived reaction. It became the fulcrum of the entire series. If we can get through that okay we can get through anything.

To round things off, when the couple have a week-long spat David makes amends by serenading him with you know what. This song has bones.

California Wildfire. In my vintage Givenchy T similar to David’s when he was serenaded.

 

The Importance of Being Schitty

I’ll be home for Christmas

Around the turn of the millennia I was in Boston with my Mother. It was her first visit so my friends spent a day showing us both the usual and unusual attractions. By evening we were exhausted and plopped down in a nice Italian restaurant in North Beach. Or maybe it’s the North End. It was somewhere in Boston’s tony Northern Corridor.

The others discussed an odd topic: Christmas. My Mother liked the holiday because it was a chance for a family party. It held no religious significance to her, there was no creche in sight.

Her formula was take care of the young ones first, mainly through gifts. Their happiness bubbled up to the parents to help them relax. Once in that calmed state they were more susceptible to her potent libations.

Dale and David, on the other hand, were polar opposites. They detested the holiday. Their Christmas habit was to hike in the New England backwoods. They’d find a remote spot, bury themselves in dead leaves, and hibernate until Boxing Day.

It felt strange they would be grilling Mother about our traditions. I quietly listened for several minutes. Realizing I should contribute and not appear rude, I finally blurted out, “don’t forget our live Nativity scene, Mother. You know, the one where I play all the parts.”

Individually these three were a tough audience. I was surprised they all laughed in unison. It just reinforced the concept that believable characterizations are the foundation to good theatre. Which is why I enjoyed watching Schitt’s Creek so much this summer. I could have easily been any one of the four main characters in that production.

The show’s premise is a nouveau riche Beverly Hills family becomes suddenly destitute. Their accountant, “who was like family,” embezzled hundreds of millions then went into hiding off-shore. After federal agents confiscate everything, an advisor sits down with them to explain they really were left with nothing. Except for one asset nobody wanted.

Once on a lark with money being no object, the father gag-gifted his son the deed to a town called Schitt’s Creek. Ha, ha, ha, then everyone forgot about it. Now, it was their only hope to rebuild.

The parents along with their 20-something son and daughter arrive at this rural cross roads to find it’s worth nothing. The towns folk are generous in making them welcome and set them up in a sleazy dive that makes Motel Six look lavish. The next six seasons are about the Rose family trying to assimilate and maintain.

The plot is similar to Green Acres except in that series Lisa and Oliver were pursuing an ideal. They consciously made the choice to live like the other half. The Roses had these draconian circumstances unexpectedly thrust upon them. Schitt’s Creek was the perfect fodder for pandemic binge watching: learning to play by new rules in a world turned upside down.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara do an exceptional job as parents with very few clues. The real breakouts in the cast, however, are their children.

A little bit Alexis

The daughter, Alexis, was the hardest character to like. She’s so superficial and offensive. Her behavior does not change much over six seasons. But over time the writers create a story line that shows what a thoughtful, caring and somewhat intelligent person she is. Her manner is just a product of socialization. It’s how you turn out when you’re brought up in a mileu of Paris Hiltons and Kardashian girls.

Annie Murphy who played Alexis admitted as much when she said she studied hours of film of these girls. One gesture in particular stood out: a limp wrist, weak extended forearm move that preceded their bodies into every scene. It was meant to accentuate $20K designer bags they were swinging.

Ms. Murphy only carried a purse in about 10% of her scenes. That she used the spastic motion all the time was pure artistry.

She also brought a confusing Gracie Allen charm to the role. In one of her early scenes she shows up to fulfill her community service requirement transferred from Beverly Hills. Her offense was running a car through a plate glass Prada store front. Her defense was she thought it was a parking garage. And that she was high.

The gruff council woman issues garbage pick up instructions then hands her tools and an orange safety vest. Alexis momentarily studies the garment then demurely poo-poos it. “Oh, no thank you, I’m fine… But it’s so sweet of you.” The woman shoots back, “this isn’t say yes to the dress, sister, wear it.”

Alexis was accustomed to having things handed to her on a silver platter. When she confides to the town Vet how broke they are, he has a bright idea. “My receptionist just quit, I could give her pay to you.” Alexis graciously refuses. “I wouldn’t feel right taking money like that.” The Vet clarifies, “you’d be doing her job, that would be your salary.”

Then, on one of her first days at work she has a benefits question. “Now you said the first year’s vacation was two weeks, how many of those two week vacations do I get? Like once a month? Every six weeks?”

Mom officiates son’s vows

Alexis’ brother David is just as preciously eccentric. His background includes owning a Manhattan Art Gallery. A curatorial highlight was the performance artist who breastfed audience members as a statement on income inequality. David’s importance will be the topic of a future post.

For now, suffice it to say that Dan Levy’s David is the glue that holds all the performances together. And he seems to have played the same role in the production itself. His hand is in everything.

The result is a ton of Emmy nominations tomorrow evening. They deserve to take home a Schitt load.

As I Lay Strategerizing

It’s so much easier to think when you’re wearing DIY haute couture.

The feces seems to be hitting the funicular with the latest national security fiasco (enfin!). The incompetence of this administration is truly stagering.

It’s also an indication that it’s time to up the ante and extend the brand. From now through election day, in fact through perpetuity, members of the GOP should wear their moniker with pride: Trump Republicans.

Just like the mountain of all-you-can-eat bacon in the bankrupt Trump Taj Mahal breakfast buffet line, these memories should be kept alive. And the catastrophe of the Trump Administration needs to be forever associated with its chief enablers. Trump Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst, Lindsay Graham and the No-Name Nobodies from the Dakotas.

Mt. Pukemore: putting it behind me

Along with Trump Virus, introducing the term Trump Republicans into the nation’s word power helps spread the toxicity of that dastardly name. And the Trump family doesn’t mind. They’re just counting the number of times they see it in print.

It’s such a great idea I’m surprised the Secretary of Failure, JKush, didn’t come up with it first.

Sundown at sunrise. Outside my bedroom window, Last Tuesday morning.

Art (and Love) for Sale

The first shipment of Campaign Art 2020 has arrived from Mumbai. Those pre-schoolers did a bang up job and are worth every penny they’re paid each month.

The stretched canvases are 8″x8″ and sell for $33 each. Except for the majestic panorama of Mt. Pukemore which is 11″x14″ and goes for $55.

Prints are for sale at Stuff, 150 Valencia Street, SF, CA or by emailing ellistoellis@gmail.com. My precious insiders can contact me directly.

These canvases make great corporate gifts (especially in the Bible Belt), are perfect bathroom art and are wonderful for children (recommended ages: 3 to 5 years. No choking hazard!)

 In Stock Now!

Coming Soon!

Finally, with the impending semi-centennial of me donning the pink suit almost upon us, a limited edition of B for Biden prints will also be available. Limit will be determined by the number of people who order it.

These canvases are 8″x8″ and sell for $50.

But Wait, There’s More!

Added 9/18

Melania’s Logical Successor

lKanye West has qualified for the ballot in West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin,  Montana and possibly Arizona. With such widespread appeal an Electoral College sweep is almost guaranteed.

Thoughts have naturally turned towards Kim Kardashian’s Inaugural Gown. Rumor has it her dress is based on historical designs and was created by Gardena’s famous fashion house Brown Eye’s 2020.

Mrs. West enthusiastically pointed out, “if that Dolly bitch can rack her dirty pillows up with a cheap underwire, ain’t no reason I can’t tape my moobs up front and center.”

Can the powdered donuts be far behind?